Joy

Dear President Biden,

I hope your Easter has been a meaningful one and that revisiting the resurrection story has brought you some joy, some real joy, the smiling through tears sort of joy.

I got to experience some of that sort of joy this morning during our worship service – it was wholly unexpected and wholly overwhelming.

The backdrop is that last week, for Palm Sunday, our senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown invited Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg to preach the sermon. That was a pretty darn radical move in and of itself, but it got way, way better because Rabbi Kinberg preached on the ways that Christians have terrorized Jewish people throughout the ages over Jesus’s death. She told us about how in Poland, where her family is from, Jewish people had to board up their homes and businesses over Easter weekend and stay indoors from Good (should be in quotes) Friday until the following Monday lest they be murdered by Christians (should be in quotes) – lest they be murdered by Christians.

Rabbi Kinberg didn’t wade into how Pilate was surely a scholar of the divide and conquer approach or how the storytelling in the New Testament was probably cast to make sure there was a clear enemy when reality was almost certainly far less straightforward. My nerdy, history-hungry self wanted those bits and maybe I’ll get them at some point, but my heart needed to hear the anguish of those more recent times as well as the pretty awesome radical hope that came through the simple fact that a Rabbi was holding up a mirror to a mainline Christian church on Palm Sunday. It wasn’t the Sunday before Palm Sunday or some random Sunday in July, it was Palm Sunday – full stop.

And then there was this morning. The first half hour or so of the service was pretty pedestrian. Well, really, the music was pedestrian. The prayers were fairly rad but I found myself turning down the volume on most of the music. Until we got to “Total Praise.” And the dancers – Miles Pertl and Zsilas Hughes.

I was multi-tasking – watching/listening to the service and printing – so I actually missed the dancers’ names, but when I looked up and saw these two ballet dancers doing their thing, I was confused because it looked like two men doing what would typically be a dance-duet between a cisgender woman and a cisgender man. I enlarged the picture so it was full screen and there they were, this lovely, lithe Black man being lifted and held by a lovely, lithe (and somewhat bigger) White man up on the chancil.

Since my spellcheck doesn’t recognize the word “chancil” I looked it up. I spelled it correctly and as a bonus, here’s the definition: “That part of a church, reserved for the use of the clergy, where the altar, or communion table, is placed,” to which I say “ha!” not so fast – Zsilas and Miles belong up there too.

The reason to tell you all of this – faulty definition and all – is to let you know that I cried and cried and cried watching Miles and Zsilas dancing together. On Easter. In my church. Up on the chancil. A Black man and a White man performing an intimate, absolutely gorgeous ballet with one another on Easter, in my church, up on the chancil, and receiving thunderous applause and a standing ovation. The in-person crowd was small because of Covid, but it was mighty and the love and the joy were palpable.

May we all be safe to be our authentic selves out loud up on the chancil.
May we be about joy.
May we have the courage to be about joy.
May we accept that true joy is going to shake things up but good.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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